Living-Today: Issues of modern living

By United Press International  |  Feb. 12, 2002 at 4:45 AM
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President Bush is calling for a Patients' Bill of Rights as part of a broad health care program, arguing that conflicts about treatment should "end in medical care, not litigation."

Republicans and Democrats have skirmished for the past several years over health care issues, especially the Patients' Bill of Rights. But the president, speaking at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee Monday, said he would ask Congress to pass his proposal as soon as possible.

The medical program Bush described includes the "free choice of health care plans," affordability through tax-free medical savings account benefits, special tax incentives to help the uninsured obtain insurance, and a strengthening of Medicaid and Medicare without increasing government interference.

"We must reform health care in America. We must build a modern, innovative health care system that gives patients more options and fewer orders, and strengthens the doctor-patient relationship. Government has got to take an active role in reform. Yet it's important that government's role is not to centralize, nor is government's role to control the delivery of medicine," he said.

Health reform, like Social Security reform, has dogged the White House for years. The Clinton administration launched a full-court press to bring about changes, but efforts were either sidelined or sunk amid fierce Republican opposition and charges of an attempt to create a government-controlled national health care system similar to those in Europe.

Medical care legislation will likely be a hot topic in the 2002 mid-term elections in which control of the Senate and House will once again be up for grabs.

(Thanks to UPI's Richard Tomkins in Washington)


Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked for an investigation into the possible health risks of irradiated mail, after Capitol Hill staff members complained of feeling sick.

Grassley asked the Office of Compliance -- responsible for enforcing labor and employment law on Capitol Hill -- to investigate complaints of headaches, skin rashes, dry mouth and skin irritation from 73 staff members after handling the mail. "An independent review can help shed light on what kind of health risks might exist and if they exist, how to solve them," he said.

According to Grassley, health officials at the Attending Physician's Office in the Capitol have attributed some of the complaints to colds, flu or dry air. The Senate Sergeant at Arms has put together a task force to investigate the issue.

But some adverse health impact of handling irradiated mail is becoming common knowledge in Washington since the process was put in place last fall to kill possible anthrax spores in the mail. On Jan. 9, the Washington Fire Department took two women to the hospital after 11 workers handling mail at the Commerce Department complained of feeling ill.

Fire Department Spokesman Alan Etter said Monday that at the time, officials on an FBI terrorism task force told him the irradiation process had reacted with plastic materials in mail delivered to the department. Etter said FBI officials indicated they had seen this type of thing before in Washington.

No comment from an FBI spokesman.


A think tank dedicated to promoting American values is calling for universal support of a "just war" against terrorism.

A letter, with more than 50 signatories, argues that there is a moral justification for the U.S. war on terrorism. Those signing the letter included academics, theologians, lawyers and representatives of several different religions.

The 13-page letter with six pages of footnotes, titled "What We Are Fighting For," was released Monday by the Institute for American Values. It stresses the necessity of war for protection of human rights under a just-war philosophy.

"We recognize that all war is terrible, representative finally of human political failure," states the letter. "There are times when waging war is not only morally permitted, but morally necessary, as a response to calamitous acts of violence, hatred and injustice. This is one of those times."

It adds, "Those who slaughtered more than 3,000 persons on Sept. 11 and who, by their own admission, are willing to do it again, constitute a clear and present danger to all people of good will everywhere in the world, not just the United States."

The letter does condemn the killing of civilians, calls on all religions to promote religious tolerance, and admits and apologizes for past U.S. errors. "We recognize that at times our nation has acted with arrogance and ignorance toward other societies," the letter says. "At times our nation has pursued misguided and unjust policies."

Barbara Dyskant of the Anti-War Anti-Racist Effort (AWARE), a non-profit organization that opposes the Afghanistan war, rejected the idea of a "just war."

"Violence brings violence. It's been happening throughout history," she said.

In a statement issued by AWARE, Dyskant said even some of the traditional allies of the United States are angry over U.S. efforts to broaden its campaign to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. "I think our unilaterally declaring other countries as an axis of evil is putting our rulers at odds with the rest of the world, which would like to work together," she said. "We don't need the blood of innocence on our hands, too; we need to set an example."

(Thanks to UPI's Jessica Creighton in Washington)


A global accord that seeks to ban child soldiers in armed conflicts goes into force Tuesday. And U.N. officials and campaigners hope it will intensify pressure to help put an end to this abusive practice.

The participation of children in armed hostilities in the past few years "is one of the most pernicious features of modern conflict," Rory Mungoven, coordinator of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, a network of more than 500 non-governmental organizations in 40 countries, told a news conference.

An estimated half-a-million children are at present serving in armed forces, paramilitaries and armed groups in about 85 countries worldwide, of which more than 300,00 are actively taking part in fighting in more than 35 countries, estimates the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Vision International and Jesuit Refugee Service.

Africa is the "epicenter" of the child soldiers' problem, says Mungovern. The coalition estimated that more 120,000 child soldiers were engaged in conflicts across Africa from heavily affected countries such as Sudan, to Burundi, Sierra Leone, Angola, the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, among other.

But it said kid soldiers are also used in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, from Kosovo to Afghanistan and Colombia. Children have also been reportedly recruited by opposition Islamist groups in Algeria, Egypt and Yemen, while Kurdish groups have used child soldiers in Northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for an end the recruitment of all children under the age of 18 for compulsory recruitment and participation in armed hostilities. However, to ease sensitivities of countries such as the United States and Britain, voluntary recruitment by armed forces was allowed at 16 years of age.

To date, the protocol -- formally adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in May 2000, and which required 10 ratifications to come into effect -- has been signed by 94 countries and ratified by 14. More ratifications are expected ahead of the May special Children's Summit in May in New York.

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